Judges who refuse to issue restraining orders for women whose lives are obviously in danger, or
Judges who give custody of minor children to fathers who have proven, frightening records of domestic violence. Often these men have not only physically abused the mothers, but also even their children, and there is ample proof. Yet, the abusers are given full access to these children anyway.
These stories are enough to make any logical person want pull their hair out, and scream, “WHY???”
I was fortunate to experience the “justice” system in a state that is considered progressive in its dealings with domestic violence. And, I was equally fortunate that when I finally left my abuser, I could afford to hire a private attorney who specialized in domestic violence.
However, even I was shocked at some of the circumstances I was forced to accept when I went through my divorce and custody hearings. I will tell my story as an example of what often happens when abused women stand up to their abusers and say ‘NO MORE!’ The following is an excerpt from my new book, A Journey through Emotional Abuse: From Bondage to Freedom.
My first experience with the court system was very encouraging. When I realized my husband was severely emotionally abusing me, and was beginning to physically abuse me, my attorney and I decided to file for a temporary restraining order. She helped me list the abusive behaviors he had been doing to both my children and me. Then, we went to a civil court, spoke to a judge, and the judge granted me a temporary restraining order. Surprisingly, the judge even added my children onto the order!
A few days later, my husband and I (through our attorneys) decided to hire a Child and Family Investigator (CFI). This person is charged with determining the best interest of the children. My attorney agreed to use a CFI who supposedly had training in domestic violence.
I met with the CFI, who was a very sweet Christian woman. I was lulled into believing she was my friend. This was a bad mistake on my part. I told her about my insecurities as a mother, and I had not been a perfect wife. These words came back to haunt me when she made her recommendations to the Court at final orders. Another thing I wish I had done differently was put on more of a show when she came for a home visit. My kids just went about their business while I spoke to her. I heard later my husband had engaged in a “rousing game of Boggle” when she visited his apartment. This led her to conclude he was a more “hands on” parent than I was. One of my friends was given good advice. She was told to treat the visitation like a house showing, and pull out all the stops! Impress the heck out of the CFI. Also, any time you talk to ANYONE related to a court case, less is more. Keep things close to the vest. Better to have them ask more questions than for you to give too much.
Our CFI spent about a month “investigating” our case. Even though I gave her the phone numbers of many neighbors who had witnessed my husband berating our kids in the front yard when playing ball, she never called a single one of them. She said she had “prayed about it,” and decided living one week with me, and the entire next week with my husband was the best thing. I was absolutely stunned by her decision.
I could barely breathe; I was so shocked and upset. I could not believe a Christian woman would give equal parenting time to my abuser. I was horrified at the thought of my children being alone with him for a week at a time. My attorney counseled me that I could not really fight this, since any judge would take the recommendation of the CFI. I was, consequently, forced to allow this to happen. The next week, my children began moving each weekend from house to house.
Note: When searching for an expert, such as a counselor, attorney, CFI, etc. to help you through your journey, credentials and experience in domestic violence and child welfare are much more important than whether the professional is a Christian or not.
Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He DO That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men works to increase the rights of abused mothers and their children in the US court system. The following is taken from his website:
“Our society is currently giving mothers a powerful and crazy-making mixed message. First, it says to mothers, ‘If your children’s father is violent or abusive to you or to your children, you should leave him in order to keep your children from being exposed to his behavior.’ But then, if the mother does leave, the society many times appears to do an abrupt about-face, and say, ‘Now that you are spilt up from your abusive partner, you must expose your children to him. Only now you must send them alone with him, without you even being around anymore to keep an eye on whether they are okay.’
“What do we want? Do we want mothers to protect their children from abusers, or don’t we?
“The sad result of this double-bind is many mothers, who take entirely appropriate steps to protect their children from exposure to abuse, are being insulted by court personnel, harshly and unethically criticized, and ridiculed in custody evaluations and psychological assessments, and required to send their children into unsupervised contact or even custody with their abusive fathers. And sometimes, these rulings are coming in the face of overwhelming evidence the children have both witnessed abuse and suffered it directly, evidence that would convince any reasonable and unbiased person the children were in urgent need of protection. Family courts across the US and Canada appear to be guilty day in and day out of reckless endangerment of children.
“I wish the ‘justice system’ dispensed justice, but where it comes to child custody litigation involving abusive fathers, outcomes are mixed at best. With adequate knowledge and planning, and especially if you are among the fortunate mothers who are able to obtain competent legal representation from a lawyer who understands what abusers are like as parents, you may be able to keep your children on the path to healing. If your case goes poorly, you can still find ways to help your children feel your love and support surrounding them, and give them the strength to survive their father’s destructiveness. But regardless of the outcome you experience personally, you might want to keep the following points in mind:
“The custody system in the US and Canada is broken. You are not the only person who has experienced unhealthy and biased responses, and you are not the crazy, paranoid, vindictive person they may be painting you as.
“Other women need your help to change the system, so that protective mothers start receiving proper respect for their rights and their children’s rights.
“Many women have found when they become active in the protective parents movement, raising their voices loudly for the custody rights of mothers who have been battered or whose children have been sexually abused, their own healing leaps forward.”
I know Lundy Bancroft’s words paint a dismal picture. My own experience in the court system, and that of many women I know, is not encouraging. Lundy recommends women bond together to help each other, saying this can bring healing. I would also encourage you in the following way: If you are in an abusive relationship right now and you have children, your children are living with the abuse every day. They never escape it. Furthermore, when you stay in the abuse, you are telling your children that abuse is OK, and normal. However, when you leave the abuse, you give them the message that abuse is not OK, and not normal. You give your children a chance to see a life (yours) without abuse.
The time they spend with you will be a great contrast to the time they spend with their manipulative, abusive father. Even if at first they don’t understand what caused you to leave him, they will eventually understand this as time goes by. The time they spend with you, especially if you invest time and energy becoming emotionally healthy, will help them grow into healthy adults themselves. It will break the chain of domestic violence in the next generation. If you are currently in an abusive relationship, and would like to escape it, please see my blog on safety planning.
For anyone who feels safe to do so, I invite all my readers to share their experiences with the court system by commenting on this blog. It would help me and others to hear your stories, both good and bad. If you found a way to survive the “justice” system, we would love to be encouraged by your story. If not, please share anyway, so that others can support you. You don’t have to use your real name, and no one will see your email address.
I will continue my story of dealing with the “injustice” system next week. In the meantime, remember, Ecclesiastes 4:12 says:
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Who is this cord of three strands? You, your fellow sisters, and the Lord, who will never leave nor forsake you, (Hebrews 13:5).
Until next time,